Essay

A BABOON’S LIFE
Male-on-Male Violence, Aging and Friendship
On the Savannah

By Robert Sapolsky




For the past 20 years, I’ve spent my summers studying the behavior of wild baboons in the Serengeti of East Africa. These baboons are smart animals with individualistic personalities, and they live up to 25-year life spans in large social groups. During my time with them, I’ve experienced the shock of mortality, watching baboons who used to be terrors of the savanna become hobbled with arthritis and shuddering at the withered state of a male who was a subadult primate (like me) in the 1970s, when I began my work.

Author Robert Sapolsky and Assistant Richard Kones, with baboon An East African baboon, flanked by the author and assistant, Richard Kones

They have gotten old on me, and as they’ve grown gray, I’ve come to understand the connection between the quality of their later years and how they lived their lives. I’ve been particularly curious about the odd practice among some elderly male baboons, who run away from home in their twilight years. While initially perplexing, the experience of these aging males turned

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